As our canine companions grow older, health issues like incontinence can arise. This can be frustrating and concerning for dog owners, who may wonder if euthanasia is the most compassionate option. However, there are often ways to manage senior dogs’ bathroom troubles that allow them to continue enjoying their golden years with their families.

Understanding Common Causes of Incontinence

Age-related muscle weakness

As dogs age, the muscles that control their bladder and bowels naturally weaken over time. This age-related muscle weakness is a very common cause of incontinence in senior dogs. The muscles simply can’t hold urine or feces like they used to, resulting in occasional leaks and accidents.

Just like in humans, kegel exercises for dogs can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and improve continence. But some leakage will be unavoidable as your dog grows older.

Underlying medical conditions

Incontinence can also be caused by underlying medical conditions that affect the urinary tract. Some common examples include:

  • Urinary tract infections – Bacterial infections of the bladder or urethra can cause inflammation, irritation, and make it difficult for dogs to hold their urine.
  • Hormone-responsive incontinence – Low estrogen levels often lead to weak sphincter muscles and urine leakage in spayed female dogs.
  • Bladder stones or bladder cancer – These conditions can cause obstructions or irritations that make it difficult for dogs to hold their urine.
  • Kidney or liver disease – If the kidneys or liver are failing, excess toxins build up in the bloodstream and are eliminated through more frequent urination.

Treatment depends on the specific condition but may include medications, dietary changes, or sometimes surgery. Your vet can help diagnose any underlying causes of incontinence and recommend the best treatment options for your dog.

Side effects of medications

Certain medications can also contribute to incontinence in dogs, especially in older pets. The most common culprits include:

  • Steroids – Prednisone and other corticosteroids often lead to excessive drinking and urination.
  • Diuretics – Water pills cause the kidneys to eliminate more fluid into the urine.
  • ACE inhibitors – Blood pressure medications relax the blood vessels, which can lead to leakage.
  • PPA – Phenylpropanolamine is sometimes used to treat urinary incontinence but can also paradoxically worsen symptoms.

If you suspect medications are causing or contributing to your dog’s accidents, talk to your vet. Lower dosages or alternative drugs may help reduce side effects impacting continence. But never change prescription dosages or stop giving medications without first consulting your veterinarian.

Creating a Vet Care Plan

Identifying & treating conditions

As dogs age, they become more prone to developing certain health conditions that will need to be managed. Some common ailments in senior dogs include arthritis, dental disease, cancer, kidney disease, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, and urinary incontinence.

It’s important to have your vet thoroughly examine your elderly dog at least twice a year and run bloodwork to identify any emerging issues early on when they are most treatable. Treatment plans may include medications, supplements, dietary changes, or therapies like acupuncture or hydrotherapy.

Staying on top of your dog’s health with twice-yearly senior wellness exams can help add more healthy years to your dog’s life.

Exploring medications & supplements

There are a variety of medications and supplements that can help manage your senior dog’s health conditions and improve quality of life. Common medications prescribed for older dogs include non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like Rimadyl or meloxicam to treat arthritis pain and inflammation.

There are also medications to treat heart disease, cognitive dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and more. Helpful supplements include glucosamine/chondroitin to support joint health, SAM-e for cognitive function, and probiotics for gastrointestinal issues.

Work closely with your vet to determine the right medications or supplements to meet your dog’s needs. The goal is to provide pain relief, slow disease progression, and support your dog’s comfort and mobility.

Developing a senior wellness plan

Creating a proactive wellness plan is crucial for properly caring for your aging dog. Key elements include:

  • Twice-yearly vet exams to monitor health changes
  • Bloodwork, urinalysis, dental cleanings, cancer screens, etc. as advised by your vet
  • Keeping vaccinations up to date, except for vaccines that may be too stressful for an older dog’s immune system
  • Physical therapy or joint supplements if arthritis is present
  • A high quality senior diet recommended by your vet
  • Mental stimulation through play, training, or outings to keep your dog engaged
  • Modifications around the home like ramps, comfort beds, easily accessible food/water bowls
  • Tracking of medication administration, appetite, and mobility

Staying attentive to your senior dog’s evolving needs will help you devise a customized care strategy for better health and an improved quality of life in your dog’s later years.

Making Your Home Accident-Proof

Confining access

As senior dogs age, their bladder control often weakens, leading to more frequent accidents around the house. An effective way to minimize this issue is to confine your dog’s access to certain areas. Use baby gates to block off rooms with carpeting or furniture that are susceptible to accidents.

Allow access only to easy-to-clean spaces like the kitchen, bathroom or mudroom. Tiling these areas also makes cleanup simpler. When you can’t supervise your dog, keep them in a crate or small room with pee pads. This restricts accidents to a contained space.

Using absorbent pads & beds

Absorbent pads, mats and dog beds can help contain messes and make cleanup easier. Place waterproof pads with absorbent top layers in your dog’s favorite sleeping spots to soak up any nighttime leaks. Mats placed by the door can catch drips from excited urination when you arrive home.

Washable pee pads give your dog an approved place to go inside. Opt for thicker, more absorbent pads to hold more liquid. For incontinent dogs, try reusable diapers or doggy bloomers to catch leaks while allowing them to move comfortably.

Cleaning effectively

Promptly cleaning accidents is crucial to limiting odors and stains. An enzymatic cleaner, like Nature’s Miracle, breaks down urine compounds to fully remove the smell. Avoid ammonia-based products, which may encourage your dog to remark the area.

For tough stains, mix equal parts water and hydrogen peroxide, then scrub into the spot and let sit for 10 minutes before rinsing. Replace cushions or rugs with stubborn smells even after cleaning. Steam cleaning can also help sanitize carpets and floors.

With patience and these handy tips, you can make your home pleasant for both you and your senior dog.

Establishing a Bathroom Routine

Sticking to a schedule

One of the best ways to reduce accidents with an elderly dog is to establish a predictable bathroom routine. Take your dog outside first thing in the morning, after meals, after naps, after playtime, and right before bedtime.

Try to take them to the same spot in the yard each time and use a cue like “go potty” to help them associate that spot with relieving themselves. Be consistent and avoid long stretches between bathroom breaks.

Make a schedule with the times that work for your household and stick to it. Seniors do best with a predictable routine. You can use tools like reminder alarms on your phone or post the schedule on the fridge to help remember the timing. Consistency is key to reducing accidents inside.

Using cues & rewards

Verbal cues and treats can be very helpful for encouraging an elderly dog to potty outside. Choose a phrase like “go pee” or “go potty” to use every time you take them out. Say it as they start to go, then praise them or give a treat when they finish.

This positive reinforcement helps cement the connection.

You can also try tethering them to you indoors with a leash so you recognize their signals when they need to go out. Some signs to watch for include pacing, circling, sniffing around, or heading to the door.

Use your cue phrase when you spot them and immediately take them outside to their potty spot before an accident happens inside.

Being patient

Accidents will likely still happen at times while you work on establishing a new routine. When they do, calmly take your dog outside to finish and clean up the mess thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner inside to remove the odor.

Never punish or scold them, as this can cause anxiety and more potty problems. Just be patient and stick to the schedule.

It can take weeks or months to fully retrain an elderly dog’s bathroom habits. But with loving persistence and positive reinforcement, you can help improve their control. Celebrate successes and focus on the progress. Contact your vet if urinary issues arise.

With time and consistency, you can reduce indoor accidents.

Considering Other Options

Dog diapers

Dog diapers can be an effective solution for managing incontinence issues in elderly dogs. They come in various sizes and can be secured around a dog’s hips with adjustable straps. Dog diapers absorb urine and feces to help keep floors, furniture, and bedding clean.

According to the American Kennel Club, dog diapers should be changed frequently to avoid rashes and urine scalding.

There are two main types of dog diapers: disposable and reusable. Disposable dog diapers, like Pet Parents and Wegreeco, are convenient but can generate more waste and be costly over time. Popular reusable brands like Simple Solution and Paw Inspired typically use layers of absorbent fabric and can be washed up to 100 times, making them more eco-friendly and budget-friendly.

Indoor potty spaces

Designating an indoor potty area using artificial grass pads or pee pads is another option for senior dogs. According to the AKC, this can help limit accidents to one contained area rather than randomly around the house.

However, it requires consistent training with praise and treats to reinforce going potty on the designated pad or fake grass patch.

Some elderly dogs may no longer be able to signal when they need to go out. Thus, bringing them to the indoor potty zone on a strict schedule can be helpful. Simple Solution and Fresh Patch are two brands that offer real-grass, hydroponic potty solutions for convenient indoor setups.

Or pet owners can purchase reusable potty tray frames and disposable pee pads from various retailers like Chewy or Amazon for a cheaper DIY version.

Doggy doors

Installing a doggy door grants well-trained, healthy dogs access to safely go potty outdoors independently. This can greatly reduce accidents and messes in the home. According to Pet Keen, there are a variety of doggy door options to suit different homes and budgets – from basic flap models under $100 to high-tech, WiFi-enabled doors costing over $300.

When considering a doggy door, pet owners should measure their furry friend to ensure the door is sized appropriately. The type of material matters too. Cheaper vinyl flap doors suit most needs and climates.

Pricier aluminum and heavy plastic doors offer increased durability, insulation, and weatherproofing for extreme weather. Electronic and smart doggy doors can be programmed to fit specific schedules and respond to signal sensors, but require batteries or charging.


Caring for an aging dog who is having accidents can be challenging, but in many cases it is very manageable with planning and patience. Focus on compassionately addressing your dog’s needs as well as cleaning up messes.

With some adjustments around the home and a good veterinary plan, many senior dogs can still enjoy their golden years as cherished family members.

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